July 05, 2018

We came back from the 2018 ANA-FUNAI International Conference and Creative Workshop with the theme “Expanding Frontiers: Nigeria’s creative writing in the 21st Century last week. It was indeed a significant event. For two days scholars and writers dissected the new trends and stylistic evolutions of Nigerian literature in the 21st century. The president of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA,) MallamDenjaAbdullahi cranked the door of the conference open with his articulate opening speech in which he noted that the conference arose out of the lamentation of scholars about the dearth of critical material on contemporary authors. Indeed, one does not need a crystal ball to realize that contemporary Nigerian literature is suffering from critical appreciation.
In his keynote address, Prof. Isidore Diala launched a critical excursion into the trends, the features and the themes of 21st-century Nigerian writings. He noted that there is a tendency to explore an avalanche of issues such as LGBT. The themes in contemporary times smack of blood, oil and water. He maintained that the key difference between the first two generations of Nigerian literature and the contemporary generation is the departure from the rather monolithic theme of colonialism to themes of exile, emigration, and so forth. Professor Diala also spoke brilliantly about the importance of technology for writing in the contemporary era. The sentiment is that with the evolution of the new type of writing, the concept of characterization will certainly have to change as it is evident in the appearance of such new genres as twitterature which has a knack for reducing lengthy novels into tweets .
The Second segment which was coordinated by prof. G.M.T. Emezue and Dr. John Otu raised several thought-provoking questions such as whether we have a literary tradition in this contemporary era, if the answer is ‘Yes’, what are the features of this tradition? And if we don’t have a tradition, why?
A reaction from Prof. JOJ NwachukwuAgbada cautioned that, as writers in the contemporary era, we need to be careful about the promotion of alien cultures that are detrimental to our essence as a people such as the LGBT issues.
Prof. Sam Okala argued that our canon should be the one fashioned on the African artistic culture such that the moment what you write is not coming from your people’s ways of communicating to the audience, it means you are going out of the African canon.
Prof. Ogaga Okuyade lamented that western prizes are enticing Nigerian writers into writing for western audiences. He maintained that it is sad that critics in the contemporary generation tend to narrow their readings to ChimamandaAdichie, HelonHabila, Sefi Atta and Chris Abani as the canons when we have a whole lot of good writers on the scene.
For the Poet Laureate, Ikeogu Oke, we don’t need to change tradition. We need to be careful with issues that bother on sensibilities, but we should be free to experiment with a plethora of styles.
Dr Ismail Bala brilliantly did a brief excursion into the writings by Hausa women writers revealing an entirely new genre that critics from other parts of the country will need to take into consideration before narrowing their conception of a literary canon.
For Prof. Joe Ushie“ Our literature is still at work, since the first generation, it has been the question of searching for our identity, it is the generation ahead of us that will look back and start talking about canons.
ANA Vice-president, Mr Camillus Uka asked a deep question, we may hammer on being careful with the promotion of alien cultures, yet the big question is “Can the contemporary Nigerian writer escape from contemporary realities which are mostly alien?
For Prof. E.E. Sule “If we want to build a solid tradition, we must imbibe a new emasculated understanding that does not restrict the writer.
On his, part DrOfonimeInyang, ANA national General Secretary, lambasted the contemporary Nigerian scholars and critics for bringing politics and ethnicity into the business of criticism of Nigerian Writing.
Similarly, Obinna faulted the older scholars and critics for refusing to take the younger writers seriously. He advocated for the inclusion of young professors who read contemporary Nigerian writers on the NLNG panel.
Following shortly was the creative workshop featuring poetry, drama and drawing with ANA president, MallamDenjaAbdullahi as a model for drawing.
Professor E.E. Sule, in his absolutely absorbing lead paper, critically reflected on the diaspora position of Nigerian literature. He brilliantly outlined what he termed “diaspora – rationalization” common among our writers to include such push factors as : disillusionment with political failure, the self -objectives of the writers themselves, the collapse of conventional publishing as contemporary Nigerian publishers increasingly shy away from publishing creative works, but rather go for textbooks and biographies of popular politicians. According to him “These factors cause mental dislocation. The individual feels so disillusioned that in his head he is already out of the country even in spite of his physical presence here. The popular belief is that you need to get out of the country in order to regain your sense of reasoning. There is also the conviction that the literary capitals of the west will create a more enabling environment for a writer to be successful.
The irony is that once our writers get abroad the problem of identity politics sets in and there is a whole lot about how Nigerian writers write when they migrate. This politics of identity affects our literature. Realization now springs upon these diaspora writers that stories about everyday life in Nigeria hardly gets published as the global north prefers the “extroverted “African novels to other forms of literature. These are novels about Africa that appeals to the west. The dilemma of the contemporary African writer thus remains that Instead of creating an intellectual base at home to counter the west, we are quite eager to go over and joined them. In Sule’s words “ African writers are teachers teaching the west. We tell them about us in a way that they cannot tell us about themselves”. The workable ideology according to summarized thus:
- Nigerian writers need to make conscious effort to create a literary capital here at home
- There is the need for our writers to use their political creative force at the service of their society
- We have to privilege writers at home over writers abroad
- We should stop being a prize mongering lot
- We need to Build institutions that will help writers ( ANA has a role to play here) such as residencies, seminars/ workshops etc.
- There is the need for Support to publishing houses
- We must reduce the urge to go abroad.
The final word of Prof. Sule’s position was that “the diaspora position is a concept of neo-colonialism.”
E.E Sule’s thought-provoking lead paper was followed by several other quality paper presentation that lasted till 3 pm when the Vice-chancellor of Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu- Alike Ikwo, Prof.ChinedumNwajiuba bounced in from his foreign trip. He expressed gratitude to ANA for making his university the venue of their annual conferences. The audience was mesmerized by his poetry rendition. He later led the scholars and writers to plants trees in the university to mark the historic occasion.
By the evening of the same day, members of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Ebonyi State chapter under the able leadership of Mr. Richard Inya hosted the team of scholars and writers from all over Nigeria to a Special Evening of Poetry and Palm wine (SEPAP) which began with the chief priest Macpherson Okpara pouring libations to the god of poetry and of wine.
For those of you who missed this year’s conference, be consoled that ANA will return to Ebonyi with another of its kind next year.